5 Steps to Get You Hired as an English Teacher Abroad

College is a time for difficult decisions. You want to have fun and enjoy yourself, but the looming worry of life after graduation always seems to interrupt the fun. You have to figure out what to do after college and how you’re going to pay for college.

With unemployment around 10%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, post-college jobs are tough to come by and many grads are finding the situation incredibly frustrating as they stay unemployed or under-employed for months after graduation.

One post-graduation option that more college students are pursuing is teaching English abroad.

Teaching English Abroad

From Japan to Africa to eastern Europe, English teaching positions are available to native English speakers with often little or no formal teaching experience.

Once again, no, you don’t have to be an education major to teach English abroad.

Teaching English abroad is the perfect chance to make some money, diversify your resume, and do some more traveling while you’re young and not pinned down with kids, mortgages, and careers.

But just being able to speak English won’t guarantee you a job. You have to show foreign companies and, more importantly, interviewers why you stand out and deserve to teach in their country.

Here are 5 important steps you need to take as a college student to make yourself more marketable as an English teacher abroad.

[Note from Martin: This post was originally published on 01/11/2010 by Austin, who teaches English in Japan. I wanted to repost this with some added thoughts. Teaching abroad is the perfect option for those who want to travel in their 20s, but can’t afford it.]

1) Join an international club.

Almost every college has an international club that is run through the Office of International Programs – the people who organize and run the study abroad program.

International clubs are great because they don’t require a lot of your time and energy, but they’re a lot of fun. There are often cultural field trips, parties, and other events that you can attend where you’ll meet a lot of different people and learn about different parts of the world.

Often your colleges international students will join the international club which is the perfect chance to learn about other countries, other cultures, and to ask questions about possible places to teach English abroad after graduation.

These international students are the ones who put themselves out there to travel the world and learn English so they’re often fascinating people who can easily turn into lifetime friends. Not to mention, connections for future places to stay when you travel in the future.

International clubs are also great conversation bits in future interviews and they’re something you can mention in your resume.

2) Take classes that relate to countries you may want to teach in.

I went to a small school of 3,500 people and we still had tons of classes that centered around specific countries like Russia, Japan, or Germany.

If you have some room in your schedule, sign up for a course about one country. The professor will probably be a fanatic about the country and you’ll get to learn the ins and outs of the country. Often students will have traveled to the country as well, and you’ll get to bounce questions off them about daily life in the country, the economy, travel options, culture, etc.

Don’t be picky about which class to choose. Far too often we think we know what we want in our lives, but it’s the unexpected bolts of interest that guide our lives. Take a class about South Korea or Brazil. Who knows what you may learn? You may fall in love with the country and find yourself living there in a couple of years.

If you’re lucky enough to find a country you love and you want to teach there someday, this class can be mentioned in your interview as the “A-HA!” moment that made you apply. Trust me, the interviewers will eat that up.

Teaching English Overseas

3) Study abroad/vacation/winter break trip to any country.

This is the most important step if you want to really teach abroad.

Traveling to other countries – specifically ones that are much different than your own – will show interviewers that you have the guts to step outside of your culture and the interest to learn about other ways of life.

If you want to dramatically improve your chances of teaching abroad, you must travel in your twenties.

Do whatever you can to get abroad while you’re in college. Study abroad programs are great because they give you a chance to live somewhere for an extended period of time and you’ll get to test the waters and see if you could live there for a year or two.

I studied for seven weeks in Japan on a friend’s suggestion, and now I’ve been here for five months teaching English and will probably be here for another two years. It’s funny how things work out that way.

Traveling abroad can also show you if you really love traveling or you’re just romanticizing going to faraway lands. It’s okay to hate it. It’s okay to realize you never want to leave your home country and that foreign foods creep you out. But it’s better to make this decision as a twenty-year old than always wondering “what if” for the rest of your life.

4) Volunteer/work for international organizations.

This is another step that makes you incredibly marketable to future foreign companies as an English speaker. If you can locate local international groups or companies in your community and either work part-time, intern, or volunteer you’ll be able to talk about this in a future interview.

For example, my friend who is having a hard time landing a full-time job after graduation is interning at a college’s Office of International Programs and volunteering at his town’s culture center. He approached both organizations and offered his services for free along with some ideas of ways he could help. Both groups said yes, and now he’s getting great international experience doing a variety of tasks.

It doesn’t have to be a thirty hours-a-week job, but it could be a Sunday afternoon volunteer session. Anything that can get you international experience will make you more marketable and make your resume stick out from the rest.

Talk to your school’s Office of International Programs to see if they know of any opportunities in your community. If all else fails, Google it and see what you can find.

5) Take language classes or self-learn.

[Must read: The Studenomics MBA.]

The sign of someone who really loves a country, is when they’ll commit themselves to learning that nation’s language. Just like classes that revolve around countries, if you have some open space in your schedule, sign-up for a language course in a country your interested in and see what it’s like.

You may struggle, you may hate it, but if you get through it you’ll be able to show companies how dedicated you are to their culture.

Your language experience will also give you a leg up when you actually live in that country. Even though you’ll be teaching English as a second language, knowing even elementary phrases will help you go a long way.

Teaching English in Korea

It’s important to realize that more and more graduates are applying to teach abroad. Don’t bank on the fact that you have a 3.6 GPA and you’re a double-major. If you have no connections to international life, you probably won’t be hired.

The extent of your experience can vary, but don’t let the international opportunities your college provides pass you by.

[Read More: Failure to Launch No More. This book is going to help you get out of your comfort zone so that you finally launch.]

Get yourself out there, meet some people, learn about other ways of life, and you may just find yourself living in a foreign country teaching English someday.

8 thoughts on “5 Steps to Get You Hired as an English Teacher Abroad”

  1. You’ve highlighted one advantage (if you can call it that) of graduating in a poor economic environment, which is that you give up much less by choosing to take risks. This includes teaching English abroad, starting a business, going into a field that you like rather than one that just pays well, etc. Since you don’t have an easy well paying job lined up you are a lot more willing to take these risks.

  2. Hey, this is Austin the author of this article.

    The rewards are huge you’re right. I’ll be very surprised if I ever have another job where I like so much about the job outside of the job! From travel to compensation to new friends to independent living; it’s a great thing for me at this time in my life.

    I agree, but think it’s sad that we have to suffer through a recession for people to try interesting and off-beat job choices. It’s never too late to take a gap year or two and travel and teach. Even econ or business majors will grow from an experience. I wonder, what makes a good economic climate make students take jobs that pay well in exchange for their sanity?

  3. @Austin
    It can be difficult for people to make those choices when they have easier and more stable options available to them. Being both a business and economics person myself, I actually enjoy both fields immensely although I only work in business. Honestly when I graduated I never even considered other options, it just wasn’t on my radar.

    People tend to view the professions as boring and tedious or as you say, requiring an exchange of sanity for money. I tend to disagree with this view though and think it can be quite interesting and challenging. Of course those professions also tend to come with a heftier paycheck.

  4. Hey guys!

    I just wanted to step in quickly and say this- teaching English abroad after college is something that most college students will never even consider. With the power of word of mouth traveling so quickly through the internet, a new opportunity comes alive for college students.

    The idea itself is clearly not for everyone (my family would kill me if I tried leaving for a year) but I greatly appreciate the fact that Austin has opened up a new idea for Studenomics readers.

    Many college students have careers lined up for the moment they step out of college. Other college students have no clue as to what their future holds. In my opinion I think we should all keep our options open at all times.

  5. At our pre-departure orientation in Chicago the MC introduced a woman who was going back for her second round of teaching in Japan. She was 33 or 34 and had a kid. This time she was going back with her family.

    Teaching abroad doesn’t have to be something you do the second you graduate, but it’s a feasible option for anyone who’s just looking for a change.

  6. As a pretty recent college graduate (last May), I have had a horrible experience trying to find a decent job (not retail). Even a few internships didn’t want me, because they wanted more experience, more skills, more previous internships. (Internships!!!) I didn’t have time to take part in an un-paid internship in college- I was more focused on working jobs that could get me through college.

    So, as I grew more frustrated, I decided to apply to teach English in Shanghai. Well, everything went through like cakework, and I’m set to leave next month for a year. Fortunately, I did focus my history major around Asia/minored in Japanese, took a research trip to China (instead of taking an unpaid internship), and formed good relations with our professors specializing in Asia and my boss at the office I worked through college.

    There are some schools that are only looking for semester long teachers, and a TEFL certification certainly helps in some countries. Countries like China require just a bachelors and native English speaking abilities. You don’t even need to speak Chinese. But, it’s definitely not for everyone.

    The JET program- http://www.jetprogramme.org – is an excellent, excellent program through the Japanese government for teaching in Japan, or even placing you in a business if you speak Japanese. Unfortunately, they are getting record high applicants, and they are very, very selective. Otherwise, there’s always the job boards like at http://www.eslcafe.com/, or you can pay an agency or company to help line up a job for you.

  7. I’m soon to be a Senior in highschool, and I’m pretty certain that I’d like to make a career out of teaching English internationally. What I can’t figure out is if I’m on the right track. I’ve found plenty of information about TEFL and TESL etc. courses, but they’re generally a 2-month course or something of that sort. No one I’ve spoken to seems to know what to tell me; one guidance counselor said double major in English and the language of my choice, then go for a masters in education; another said major in education with an emphasis on language; I’ve lost track of other recommendations, but each was different and no one seemed really confident about what they said.

    I suppose what I’m getting at is, what major should I be looking at?? I’m currently set on a path to a senior year stacked with French3, Spanish4, Latin4, AP English, AP psych (I figured this would be applicable in any form of education), and a couple of music courses (I’d like to minor in music), as well as studying Arabic independently (standard as well as the Moroccan dialect). Is it foolish to neglect math (only advanced math classes with notoriously heavy workloads were offered to me, as I have already completed Precalc, which is generally a senior class) and science? How important is it to attend a top-name school (if I were by some miracle accepted to an Ivy League or something of similar standing, would it be worth the price, or would I be better off finishing with minimal debt at a less selective college?). Thank you soo much to anyone who can offer any advice, several google searches and numerous library trips have landed me on this site and I truly appreciate anything at all that can be offered.

  8. @Emily
    If you really want to make a career out of teaching English internationally, you can major in whatever you want! You have enough foreign language skills to get around Europe pretty well, and as long as you already speak English and know grammar well, you will know enough to teach. I went to an expensive private school and got a bachelor’s in film production, had no job offers in the US for over a year and now have an offer to teach English as a foreign lanuage in Spain! My advice, from personal experience is:
    1. go to the college where you will end up with the least debt
    2. go to school where you want to work
    3. take the TEFL certificate course (even online) because foreign language school really like it if you have that and the online one is cheap- around $300

    This is a really interesting exchange of ideas! I actually am looking for advice myself- As I mentioned I have an offer to teach English in Spain in October, which would be so much fun (and I’ve lived in Europe before,so I know) but very low paying, and I also got a job offer in Project Management in the US, which is a really good job in a well paying field, but I’m so bored! (Example, there is nothing for me to do right now, so I’m writing this at work.) When it rains it pours! I had no offers, and now I have two very different offers. Both have positives and negatives. What should I do?

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